Originally from Monselice near Venice, Italy, MAURO CIRILLI is the Wine Director and Educator at Press Club in San Francisco, California. Since taking the helm in late 2012 his revamped wine program has kept a focus on California wines, while integrating a good percentage of European wines, from France and Italy, to Spain, Austria and Germany.
You became a professional sommelier in Italy, what inspired your move to California?
After working as sommelier at high-end establishments throughout Italy and London, I gained a great deal of knowledge and experience with French and Italian wines. I felt the need to explore the emerging California wine industry for the next step of my career. I was attracted to challenging myself and felt that coming to the U.S. was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.
What differences have you noticed in the wine industry between Italy and the United States?
Of the several differences I noticed, the most notable was between “new world” and “old world” wines. The United States takes everything to the extreme – not just in winemaking, but also in how the industry markets and sells wine, invests in new resources and seeks to find new identities in younger winemakers. Italy has the strongest wine history background, where traditions still strongly impact viticulture, winemaking and how wine is promoted and consumed. These differences are what makes the wine industry so exiting and appealing to new generations.
What can you tell us about your wine list at Press Club?
It’s awesome! Why? Because it’s extremely thoughtful in its approach. My sommelier trained staff and I select wines that highlight quality, showcase the correct representations of varietals, reflect terroir and provide drinking satisfaction. We don’t select just what we like, but think of wines that would be great for our guests, keeping in mind what every wine represents. We analyze how wines are received and enjoyed all the time, and put lots of effort into our choices. We know our role is to create the most enjoyable guest experience and strive to do that from the start to finish.
Our list focuses on domestic and European selections, with some preference toward smaller, sustainable and biodynamic producers. We offer 50 wines+ by the glass and flights, often comparing wines from the two continents. I want our guests to have fun with our selection, with welcoming (no pretension) service and let them enjoy their time at Press Club. We really feel that every element of drinking wine should be an enjoyable experience, a life pleasure.
For your list, what is the percentage of wine with a high demand that sells easily vs. more ‘challenging to move’ varietals?
The usual suspects always sell well – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Prosecco, and account for 60/70% of overall sales. The rest is made up by lesser-known varietals. Our well-trained staff offers insight into these wines to guests who are more apt to explore.
How important is the option of wines “by the glass” in dining?
Essential! A well thought out wines by the glass program is simply a must for any establishment with an important beverage program. Providing a range of wines that can be consumed at different times with a variety of food is an opportunity to provide our guests with an expansive experience and options to customize this experience to their palate. We were one of the first wine bars in the country to offer the Coravin wine system to our guests which allowed us to showcase some extremely rare and larger format wines, not available by the glass on a regular basis.
Which Italian wines are currently enjoying the most popularity in the States?
Prosecco is still the #1 choice and its success has yet to peak. The big B’s: Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello are doing extremely well, thanks a sequence of great vintages. Wines from the Etna volcano are booming recently, as are wines are extremely elegant and complex, Burgundian in style. What is moving strongly as well is high quality and value coming from the Italian indigenous grapes. Naming a few: Vermentino, Verdicchio, Greco, Fiano and Nero d’Avola. We are no longer in the ’80 and ’90s — the market has evolved and the wave of the Super Tuscan style of wines made in a more international way is not as strong as it used to be.
And finally, what is one of your current preferred seasonal small plate and thoughtful wine pairings at Press Club?
On our latest spring menu, one of my favorite pairings is the Ahi Carpaccio on flat bread with Niçoise Olives, lemon aioli and pickled jalapeño paired perfectly with 2014 Riesling, Kabinett, Brauneberger Juffer, Karp Schreiber from Mosel, Germany. The great minerality and acidity of the wine cuts through the tuna texture and the light presence of sweetness from the wine balances the heat from the jalapeño.
Learn more about WINE DIRECTOR Mauro Cirilli at his Somm’s List Profile.